Friday, January 31, 2014

History Club Meeting on February 1 Cancelled!

Based on present weather forecasts, we have decided to CANCEL the History Club meeting scheduled for tomorrow, February 1.  Our Speaker, James Cornelius, will be rescheduled.  Call me if you have questions. 

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish American History Club

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mary Ellen Rethford, 1928-2014

Mary Ellen McDonough was born in San Antonio, Texas,on July 7, 1928. A few days after her birth, the family moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Her father was a Pentecostal preacher and became the pastor of a growing church called Capital Hill Assembly. Mary graduated from Capitol Hill High School in 1945 where she participated in drama and was the state champion badminton player.

In 1946, she married Wayne Rethford whom she had known since the age of twelve. Two children resulted from the union: Elaine Moore and Suzanne D’Anza. There are 3 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.

Mary was energetic, smart and full of boundless energy. She had an excellent singing voice and often sang in church, at funerals and weddings. Her interest in church music was endless and she had committed hundreds of song to memory.

As we have reviewed her life, her interests and accomplishments, we found them interesting and amazing. Here is a partial list:

While living in Nashville, TN. She became a skilled maker of women’s hats and an accomplished seamstress. She was also skilled in pattern making and could see a dress, draw the necessary patterns and then sew the dress. A trade school offered a certificate in Interior Design and she became quite proficient at designing home interiors.

After many years of study and testing, she became a Master Graphoanalyst and was very adept in interpreting personality traits through an individual’s handwriting. She often gave talks at local colleges and to other interested groups on handwriting analysis and on several occasions was used by local police departments to analyze profiles. She once served on a selection committee for those seeking to winter at the South Pole for several months. She used handwriting as a basis for her selections. Her analysis was compared to other psychological testing before the final individuals were selected.

She became a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator in Illinois but never served in that capacity. Accomplished at picture framing, she was the owner of a frame shop in Glen Ellyn known as Dorothy’s.

Graduating from a school in Iowa, she became licensed in electrolysis and in 1976 opened “Electrolysis by Mary Ellen.” It first located in Glen Ellyn and later in Wheaton. The business, now greatly expanded, is owned and operated by her two daughters.

She was quite proficient in needlework and the making of Christmas ornaments. She was an excellent cook, but it was not something she especially enjoyed. If she had interest, there was little she could not learn to do - from refinishing furniture, rewiring lamps, installing ceramic tile or looking for antiques at garage sales. She always carried a small magnet. Before the days of the Internet, there was always a book with instructions at the book store to teach her anything she wanted to learn.
Mary Ellen had many friends and was greatly admired by members of her church, her business clients and the Scottish community of Chicagoland. In 2010, the Board of Governors of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society honored her “cultural and charitable work” by naming her the Clanswoman of the Year.   

Mary Ellen Rethford died on January 13, 2014 at her home in Lombard, IL. Her life will be honored on the evening of January 26 at the Lombard Church of the Nazarene, 536 North Rt. 53 (Columbine Ave). For those of you without a G.P.S. system, the church is one-half mile south of North Ave on the west side of the street. The family will be receiving guests beginning at 5:30 p.m. followed by a service of thanksgiving and music. A lone piper will close the service with Amazing Grace.” All are welcome.

This memorial service is being arranged by the Lombard Church and they will be pleased to receive memorials in Mary’s name in lieu of flowers. Send your memorial to the Lombard Church of the Nazarene, 536 North Route 53, Lombard, IL. 60148.

If you need more information you can call my home, 630-629-4516 or the church office 630-627-9444.

Wayne Rethford, husband and President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society

Upcoming Events:
The Scottish American History Club will meet on February 1, 2014. The special speaker is James Cornelius, Curator of the Lincoln Collection in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential library. Please note the time change!

THE MEETING WILL START AT 2 P.M. (museum will open at 1 p.m.)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Chicago’s Scot - H. Philip Maxwell

Beginning in 1930 and ending in 1966, the city of Chicago held an annual music festival in Soldier Field. The attendance was always between 70 and 80 thousand but when loud speakers were added outside the stadium the attendance reached one hundred thousand or more.

The event officially known as the Chicagoland Music Festival was sponsored by the Chicago Tribune Charities, Inc., who also sponsored the Amateur Boxing Association and the R.O.T.C. program in local schools.

On the day of the Festival a luncheon was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Conrad Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue where the star entertainers performed. Over the years the list of stars was quite amazing. Here are just a few of the names: The Lenon Sisters, Frankie Avalon, Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong, Alan King, Liberace, The W-G-N Barn Dance crew, Eydie Gorme, Hildegarde, Charlie Weaver and the Murk Family Singers from Wheaton. ( If you don’t recognize some of those it’s because of your age.)

One name many of you will recognize is that of Edd Byrnes. Ten thousand teenagers greeted his plane when it landed at Midway Airport and Channel 7 televised his arrival. A capacity crowd of 1200 also greeted him at the Conrad Hilton.

In 1938 one of the features was the match lighting ceremony. It became a regular feature. The Diamond National Corp. of New York City supplied 150,000 "strike anywhere" matches for the event. Not sure of the significance of the ceremony but if any of our readers know they can leave a comment.

Chicago’s African American community often had the greatest emotional impact. A chorus of 1,000 sang the old Negro Spirituals. They practiced at what is now the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church at King Drive and 41st Street. Traffic stopped and people listened. A Tribune reporter named James Bennett visited the church and reported that every seat was filled at the practice. "I’ll tell what is the real story: It was singing so rapturous, so pulsating, and so moving that it made you want to cry and made you feel you ought to pray."

This group of 1,000 once combined their voices with 4,000 others to sing the Hallelujah Chorus. That year, 2,000 lawyers from America and Great Britain, who were attending a convention of the American Bar Association, came as group to hear the great voices.

The Tribune employee responsible for all the planning was H. Philip Maxwell. He had joined the Tribune in 1929 and headed the Golden Gloves boxing tournament and the ROTC awards program. Mr. Maxwell was born in Greencastle, Indiana, 1901. His father was a Methodist gospel singer. On New Year’s Day our family did some checking on and the Maxwell family for several generations were all born in Indiana and New York. We did this search because Mayor Richard H. Daley often referred to him as "Chicago’s Scot."

Mr. Maxwell’s retirement party in 1967 was held in the Grand ballroom of the Conrad Hilton where 850 had lunch and remembered all the great festivals. The Tribune wrote: "A touch of Scottish heather filtered into the Grand ballroom as Chicago paid tribute to Phillip Maxwell..." The Tribune continued: "It was a time for a special visit from Mayor Daley, for laughter while humorous, heart- warming gifts were presented, for perhaps a few tears as memories of past Festivals were relived, and for heartfelt applause for Chicago’s Scot, Harry Philip Maxwell."

I don’t know if Philip Maxwell was a member of the Saint Andrew Society but I think he might have been. His brother, W.D. Maxwell was the Editor of the Chicago Tribune and a Distinguished Citizen at the banquet in 1965. More about him at a later time.

At the time of his death Mr. Maxwell was a patient in the LaGrange Community Hospital. He lived in Naperville with his wife who survived him. Other family members were a son, Donald; a daughter, Mrs. Barbara Downs; and a brother, W.D. Maxwell. He is buried in Vincennes, Indiana.

These festivals are great reminders of our past and every year was its own story. We have certainly changed as a people. Sometimes, I think it might be nice to turn back the clock.

Wayne Rethford

Upcoming Events:

The first History Club meeting in the new year will be on January 11, 2014. Same place - same time (10 a.m.) - different date. The speaker will be Tina Beaird and her subject - "The Scottish Diaspora - Migration Chains to Illinois." Tina is the Reference Librarian at the Plainfield Library. We met Tina on our History Tour last summer. She is smart, full of energy and knows her subject. It will be a good start for 2014.

February 1, 2014. New Time - 2 p.m. Our speaker will be James M. Cornelius who is the Curator of the Lincoln Collection in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. He is a native of Minnesota and a graduate of the University of Illinois. Please note the time change. The museum will open at 1 p.m.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Milwaukee, A Scotch Town

“Contrary to popular belief, Milwaukee was originally a Scotch-Irish town, not a German settlement. A great part in building it up from a small town to the twelfth city of the United States was taken by Scotchmen, who achieved prominence in finance, commerce and industry, and upheld the finest traditions of Scottish culture.” So says the Milwaukee Journal on January 24, 1934.

The article was written because the St. Andrew’s Society was celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary and the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. At their first dinner on January 25, 1859, Alexander Mitchell was in the chair, the vice-president, Judge Arthur MacArthur was the toastmaster. Robert Menzies was the first secretary and the poet laureate was Robert Shiells. So many Scots lived in Milwaukee that the “Scotch public picnic was for years the largest and merriest gathering in Milwaukee.” In the winter there was curling promoted by the St. Andrew’s Society.

As we have previously mentioned the first president of the Milwaukee Society was Alexander Mitchell, who according this article, was the outstanding Scotchman who played the leading role in the development of Milwaukee and the northwest. John Johnston was a nephew of Mr. Mitchell and a graduate of the University of Aberdeen. He came to Milwaukee in 1856 and spent his entire life working at the Mitchell bank. Three times the St. Andrew’s Society elected him president and he was also the president of the Grand National Curling Clubs of America.

Another prominent Scot was Arthur MacArthur who came to Milwaukee in 1849 and two years later was the city attorney. He later became an associate judge of the supreme court of the District of Columbia and was later chancellor of the National University in Washington. His son Arthur served in the Civil War and was given “the congressional medal of honor for bravery at Missionary Ridge.” In the Spanish-American war he served with honor in the Philippines. He fell dead while addressing his comrades of the 24th Wisconsin volunteers at a reunion in Milwaukee. His son was General Douglas MacArthur of World War II. He also received the Medal of Honor.

I have never seen the Robert Burns statue in Milwaukee but the sculptor is the same as ours standing in Garfield Park since 1906. They are identical.  “In 1909 the Milwaukee Society unveiled the statue of Robert Burns which now stands in Franklin Square.” It was a gift from James A. Bryden, a founder and past president of the Society. The organization also contributed money to the Scottish memorial in the Princess Street Gardens which says: “A tribute from men of Scottish blood and sympathies in America to Scotland.” I wonder if that memorial still exists?

I find it interesting that Douglas MacArthur and Billie Mitchell grew up in the same town and were nearly the same age. Later in life they would be in the same courtroom - one a defendant, the other a member of the jury. More on that later. I can’t think of a major American city that does not have a Scottish history. I hope someone in Milwaukee will take interest and begin to gather these great stories.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

Upcoming Events:

The first History Club meeting in the new year will be on January 11, 2014. Same place - same time - different date. The speaker will be Tina Beaird and her subject - “The Scottish Diaspora - Migration Chains to Illinois.” Tina is the Reference Librarian at the Plainfield Library. We met Tina on our History Tour last summer. She is smart, full of energy and knows her subject. It will be a good start for 2014.